attic, part 1: work begins

04.04 - 05.04 clearing out the bats in the belfry

click to see the full photo galleryImagine our happy surprise when we first looked at the house and discovered the door in one of the bedrooms that opened not onto a closet, but onto a narrow flight of stairs to the attic. And upstairs was a huge unused space that demanded something special. It had a beautiful hardwood floor needing just a little sanding and finishing, a wide dormer on one side, and plenty of potential storage space under the eaves. We started planning the renovation of that space into a master suite before we even closed on the house.

Well it's been two years, but better late than never. Dad and Malinda were on their way to help us get started on the electrical wiring and drywalling so we needed to get everything ready in time for their visit. Which mean tearing out the paneling that was covering the walls, cleaning out all the junk the previous owners had left behind under the eaves, ripping out the insulation and replacing it with newer stuff that met building codes, and building storage spaces under the eaves (putting down a sub-floor and building kneewalls).

We decided to reuse the paneling for finishing out the storage spaces when we get to that point since it's actually good quality stuff and there's plenty of it. Which meant hauling it all downstairs and finding a place to store it until we need it. There was also a lot of unfinished plywood (not good quality stuff) they were apparently using for a makeshift floor under the eaves for storing miscellaneous crap -- so much that we had to rent a large dumpster to have it hauled off. Most of the insulation was the original wool (yes, wool) insulation from when the house was first built, which also had to go.

And then there was the junk. A broken plastic playpen. A horrible blue glass globe table lamp, circa 1965, with fake gold feet and a huge dirty lampshade. A four-foot red and white stuffed bear, probably won at a carnival somewhere. Three room-size scraps of yellow and green shag carpet, no doubt infested with heaven-only-knows-what. We would've preferred HazMat suits, but we got by with goggles, gloves, and dust masks.

There were treasures, too. A box of books, a box of vinyl records, probably a few valuables in both. Some pennies, a couple of stamps. An old, nearly disintegrated apple wrapper. But absolutely the biggest treasures were two sets of framed pictures. They each have five very old 5x7" photos in them, one set with a baby in various poses, the other set with a little boy (presumably the baby a few years later) in various poses. Judging from the clothes, the photo sets are probably from the 'teens, maybe 1915 or thereabouts? Possibly even as early as 1909, which is when we speculate the house was built. There's no indication of who he is so we've named the little boy Christopher Robin. One of these days, we'll try to find out his real name. But first, we have an attic to renovate.

It took almost four full days to clear out the attic. When we were done, Every square inch had to be cleaned (not even haunted houses have that many cobwebs, not mention the old wool insulation, which stuck to everything). But when we were done, it was probably the cleanest it's been since the house was first built, even if it was basically gutted.

Before we could start insulating, we had to put up the Styrofoam vent baffles for attic ventilation. Because although the previous owners had been smart enough to have attic vents cut in when the new roof was put on they a) didn't have ventilation channels put in to let air circulate between the eaves and the vents; and b) didn't clear out any of the insulation around the vents themselves to make them actually, you know, useful. Color me so surprised.

The baffles were easy to put up but made it harder to fit the insulation in (a fact that came up later during the drywalling phase). And as with every project that we start came the point when we had to figure out how to haul certain materials from the hardware store to the house. (About the only time we ever regret not having a truck.) This time, it was 15 rolls of insulation in the Subaru, which might as well have been trying to cram 15 pro-football players in the Subaru (bulk-wise, not weight-wise). But we've gotten pretty creative with this kind of thing in the last couple of years and compared to the time we hauled all the lumber for the porch -- without the benefit of rope...and on the freeway, no less -- it was actually kind of funny instead of outright terrifying.

Next came the loose-fill insulation between the floor joists. Which sucked, by the way, but we'll save you the boring story about why we ended up breaking it up by hand, every square effing inch of it. (Though I will say that all this insulation better pay off in the winter, dammit.)

Finally -- finally -- we were ready to put down the sub-floors for the three storage spaces and start roughing in the framing for them. This part was without doubt the easiest and fastest part of the project so far. Once the plywood sheets were nailed down, Sal put together the frames while I cut the studs for the next one. Which means I got to learn how to use a compound miter saw (borrowed from a friend), thus expanding my power tool repertoire. And can I just say that I? Am a compound miter saw badass. Forty-three custom studs cut at an angle varying from 28 to 32 degrees and not a single screw-up in the bunch. Okay, one mistake, but Sal was totally distracting me with his Homestar Runner routine so it doesn't really count.

Up next on a Very Special Episode of The Hallway: The Halls learn that drywalling does not belong in the "beginners" section of the Newly Updated Better Homes & Gardens Home Improvement & Repair Guide. "Newly Updated" my sweet Aunt Josephine....

click to see the full photo gallery